Hamilton's Long History of Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees
(The following are excerpts from a recent Spectator article)
Hamilton has long been one of Canada's top destinations for people coming from somewhere else ~ by their own choice as immigrants, or out of necessity as refugees. Nearly half of Hamilton residents 65 years of age and older were born outside Canada...a testament to the city's legacy as a major industrial employer during the 1950's, '60's and '70's.
During the 1800's, immigrants to Hamilton came predominantly from Ireland, Scotland and England. The overwhelming numbers of refugees now passing through Buffalo's Vive Centre to Canada has been likened to a modern-day-Underground Railroad. Back in the mid-1800's Hamilton was an important stop on the original Underground Railroad for blacks escaping from slavery in the United States. Hundreds of black people settled in Hamilton during that time, including a thriving community on Concession Street on the Mountain that was dubbed 'Little Africa'.
In the early part of the 20th century, the main sources of immigrants were Italy, Poland and Hungary. After WWII, there was a massive influx of immigrants from Italy and Portugal. In the past half-century, refugees have been a large proportion of the city's newcomers. During the 1970's, the principal source of refugees was Vietnam. More recently, Hamilton's refugees have come from Myanmar, Somalia, Kosovo, Colombia, Iraq, Honduras, El Salvdor and Afghanistan.
From late 2015 to early 2017, Hamilton also became home
for nearly 1,500 refugees from Syria.
Feeling Lucky! Afew years ago I read about an Italian who immigrated to Canada with his wife and family. He used his work skills to financially support his family...working often 60-hour weeks in an industry. He persevered to get established...enabling him to have money in the bank 'for a rainy day' as Canadians say. A fellow-worker one day commented to him, “You're so lucky to have a good job and incoming salary!” To which our Italian stated, “Yes...I've been very lucky!”
Arriving in Canada
Shortly after midnight on 31 December 2015, Iman and Zaher Ahmad and their two young daughters arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada after a 14-hour flight from Beirut.
They didn't speak English...not a word!
There was confusion as they were moved into lines with other Syrians to be processed by immigration officials at Canada's largest airport. Their only possessions...other than their documents...were parka coats, winter boots and teddy bears issued by Canadian officials. They were put on a bus and taken to a hotel to sleep...then awoken by strangers a few hours later and told they must return to the airport for the final leg of their journey to a place called Ottawa. They didn't know where it was.
After a problem with their documents that delayed them for 12 hours, the family finally arrived at Ottawa's much smaller airport that evening...unsure of their next move. Peering down from the top of the escalator overlooking the baggage carousels, Zaher saw their names on a sign in Arabic...and a big group of people who began crying and cheering as they slowly approached. The 38 people turned out to be the family's sponsoring group who had come to welcome the Ahmads to their new home.
In 6 months since Iman and Zaher's arrival, laughter echoes from their two-storey duplex, not far from downtown Ottawa. The family is celebrating Eid al-Fitr which marks the end ofRamadan fast...with 4 of their Canadian sponsors. “In Lebanon, Eid is a small affair,” says Iman. “Here it is big and very exciting...and people from many countries.” It is just one of the cultural adjustments she has made as a new Canadian. For Iman and Zaher and the girls, their sponsored group has become the equivalent of their extended family in Canada. “They make me feel that Canada is my country now.”
Settling in Canada
William Worked Hard for His 'Luck!'
Jeff Mahoney from The Hamilton Spectator wrote April 25, 2017
about William Uwimana, his wife Nina, son Brent and Daughter Gabriella.
It's been a wildly busy last few years for William Uwimana, Canadian. (Via Burundi, and a Kenyan refugee camp, where on top of everything, he was stung by a scorpion.)
Since 2012, when he was 27, he has earned his high school certificate; he got married; brought his wife and first child here (he had not met little Brent until then); took special training to learn welding, hydraulics, electrical, blueprinting and CAD; fell in love with Canada; did co-op placements; gave a speech that moved Cesare DiDonato to the core.
He has worked...first as a labourer, a cleaner, a forklift operator, a seasonal employee in Niagara Falls (whatever he could find)...and more recently as a machinist in Stoney Creek. He has worked like a man possessed and he has been by the desire to achieve and to move past the trauma of the first half of his life...for himself and his family. He knew he had to position himself for something better!
One afternoon he saw a poster for something called ELATE
(Entry Level Advantage To Employment.
It was job training through the Industry Education Council (IEC) of Hamilton at Mohawk College. He applied himself diligently and completed the program where he specialized in machining, electrical and welding skills. From Mohawk, he got his High School Diploma. Cesare DiDonato, (IEC's executive director explains, “At the end of the training, William did an eight-week-co-op placement at LP Custom Machining in Stoney Creek. He did so well, they hired him...and he's now workng on his apprenticeship as a machinist.”
The family had been separated in the chaos of the civil war in Burundi and his mother managed to make her way to Canada. She sponsored William and his brother...and in 2012 they arrived. William worked from the moment he arrived...unstoppably, first in Fort Erie then moving to Hamilton...where there were more opportunites and more jobs.
Study-Work-Study! has been the way for Burundi native who states,
“I LOVE CANADA”
Compiled by Merle Baird-Kerr...July 13, 2017